With flooding becoming all too common along the Lake Ontario shoreline, New York state is aiming to spend its money before the damage happens.
- The state launched Lake Ontario REDI in the spring, pledging $300 million
- Several REDI meetings were held across the state Wednesday
- A commission will ultimately determine what projects get funding
"Another season's going by and we need to do something about it. We need to be more proactive," Mark Mistretta, NYS Parks Western District director, said.
In the spring, Gov. Cuomo launched the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI), earmarking up to $300 million for communities.
"Time is of the essence," Mistretta said. "We are looking for the project ideas, the submittals by August 2 and by mid-September we're going to have that list prioritized and we're going to be submitting it to the REDI Commission."
State officials have already done site tours along the shoreline and drafted a preliminary list of potential projects. Wednesday, they held meetings with local leaders and stakeholders in several of those communities like Barker and Greece.
"I think at the moment, we're brainstorming so they should be putting forth any project that they think has some value," DEC Regional Director Abby Snyder said.
The goal of the initiative is not just to bolster infrastructure to make it less susceptible to flooding and erosion, but to choose projects that will spur local economic growth.
The town of Greece’s plan would add 13,500 feet of piping to the sewer system that would allow for relief during flooding conditions. It also includes the construction of a 1,600 foot wall to protect the asset that is Goodwin Park.
The state's formula for resiliency will raise the bar for infrastructure plans.
Everyone here learned that all of their plans must be built to sustain Lake Ontario levels of 257 feet — eight feet higher than even this spring's record levels.
"Places like Olcott, places like Wilson, their economies in large part exist around the lake and whether it's fishing, whether it's tourism, whether it's restaurants, people coming in, when those businesses are closed, when people aren't coming in, there is a huge effect," state Senator Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said.
The state said funding will be available to both private and public entities although it will probably skew toward municipal projects. Wilson Lakeside Market Owner James Bowman said any project in his area, will help make up for lost sales.
"If I can get the tourism back, I benefit," he said.
A REDI commission will ultimately chose the projects and how the money is disbursed, but local governments will need to match 15 percent of the state funding. Ortt said that can be onerous but potentially worthwhile for small municipalities.
"For some of these projects, you're never going to have a better opportunity to get them done," Ortt said.
Groups will meet three more times before the state decides in September how to help their communities meet the lake's next challenge.